Monday, August 14, 2000

Hamilton man creates pioneer memorial

Log cabin became a village

By Lisa Cornwell
The Associated Press

        RENFRO VALLEY, Ky. — Memories of carefree childhood days spent in his grandparents' log cabin in eastern Kentucky stirred a longing in Jerry Hayes for a return to simpler times. Soon that nostalgic yearning became the driving passion of his life.

        “At first I just wanted an old log cabin in the country, so I could get away from the hectic pace of city life — even if it was only on weekends, ” said Mr. Hayes, 54, of Hamilton, Ohio.

        “But then I began to dream about creating something more — a living museum of log structures that would honor not only my ancestors, but all the pioneers who endured hardships to settle this country.”

        In 1992, the self-employed life insurance agent found a 140-year-old log house just a few miles from the site of his grandparents' former log home in Jackson County, Ky. The small cabin was in need of repair, but Mr. Hayes bought it, putting it in storage until he could find the perfect setting.

        Mr. Hayes finally found that setting in Renfro Valley, nestled amid the rocky Appalachian foothills of Rockcastle County at the edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

        “I wanted a place where it would be easy to imagine myself back on Pa and Granny Clark's cabin where I spent such happy days,” Mr. Hayes said.

        He bought 28 acres in the valley in 1995, and hired workers to begin restoring his log house the next year.

        “It took me four years to work up the courage to tackle what I knew was going to be a very difficult and expensive job, but it's really become a labor of love,” he said of his Brush Arbor Appalachian Pioneer Homestead.

        He eventually bought two more cabins, a blacksmith's shop, a barn, a church, a corncrib and a smokehouse.

        Among Brush Arbor highlights:

        • A dirt-floor trapper's cabin that has the date 1797 etched in its stone fireplace.

        • An early 19th-century log church where a volunteer preacher holds nondenominational services every Sunday.

        • The first cabin he purchased, now furnished with an tiques.

        “Many times, someone will bring an heirloom or antique that belonged to their family, saying, "this is where it belongs,'” Mr. Hayes said. “We catalog all those things so that owners can have them back if they want them later, and they can never be sold.”

        The mostly pre-Civil War log cabins and outbuildings were discovered in Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

        “When we have to take the log structures apart, we number each log and make diagrams so that we can put everything back where it belongs,” Mr. Hayes said.

        Volunteers give tours, run a nearby bed-and-breakfast and prepare country-style meals for visitors.

        “This place just seems to make the past come alive,” said volunteer Lucille Ball Pingleton, 65, of nearby Berea.

        Cora Rutledge of Blue Mountain, Miss., was a recent visitor with her 73-year-old husband, Barm. They enjoyed the pioneer village so much that they pitched in and helped when a group of antique car club members stopped by for lunch and a tour.

        “I love the whole experience,” said Mrs. Rutledge, 52, while dishing out fried green tomatoes and cornbread.

        After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project, Mr. Hayes has set up a nonprofit foundation and hopes to qualify for grants and other funding. He solicits a $2.50 donation from visitors.

        “I'm sure there are a lot of times when my family thought I was crazy to do this, but I think it is just so important to preserve what we can of our pioneer heritage,” said Mr. Hayes, who is married with five grown children.

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